Congressional hearings dealing with the technology industry tend to have an underrepresentation of members that are ‘with the times’ of the digital age. It’s as if certain members of Congress are the type of people that ask their grandchildren to fix their broken computer that just was unplugged in the first place. The character and rhetoric of the constituents representing the modern political landscape can be taxing on the public who may find themselves fatigued with the current news cycle. So what better than having these constituents talk in a room for 5 hours?
On Wednesday, July 29th, the CEOs of the ‘Big Four’ in the tech industry testified virtually in front of a House Judiciary Subcommittee on anti-trust as part of an ongoing investigation into their respective companies. It was a Skype call containing a combined worth of $2.3 trillion yet some still had to be reminded that they were on mute. The faces of Mount Trustmore include Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Tim Cook of Apple, and Sundar Pichai of Google. There is growing concern that the companies that these men represent are exercising monopoly power to squander competition and are directly violating anti-trust laws. But what are anti-trust laws and what is their significance? In order to provide context, we are going to have to go a little bit back in time.
Three billion years ago a youthful planet Earth had single-celled bacteria evolving in its tranquil seas. These minuscule bacteria later became forms of microscopic marine algae known as phytoplankton as well as animal lifeforms known as zooplankton. As these aquatic organisms met the ends of their life expectancies, their hollow corpses began collecting at the depths of the ocean. The biomass of phytoplankton and zooplankton decayed over the span of hundreds of millions of years along with a build-up in layers of sediment. During this time the combined forces of pressure and temperature at the bottom of the ocean break down the remains of the marine life forms. With the proper conditions, the fossilized remains can transition into petroleum, or what some people may call “dinosaur juice.” In the 19th century, a man by the name of John D Rockefeller successfully made a monopoly on “dinosaur juice.”
A monopoly is when a single enterprise is the only supplier of a specific commodity. The Gilded Age was a rapid economic growth period in which there existed a few monopolies owned by very few sellers. Cornelius Vanderbilt was a tycoon with wiry side-burns that owned the steamboat and railroad businesses. His transit systems were able to transport drums of “dinosaur juice” provided by Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company that were used to ignite inside of lanterns in the pre-lightbulb years. The lanterns used to light up cities with buildings made of steel provided by Andrew Carnegie’s steel mills. With these monopolies in place, the economic atmosphere in America became noncompetitive.
The purpose of competition in the economy is to ensure that commercial firms create products and services that give an optimal amount of selection for the consumer. When there is no competition it greatly limits the choices a consumer is able to make. The workers for these companies had 12-hour workdays, terrible pay, and were dying on the job. The monopolists of this time had acquired unprecedented wealth. They were so rich that when monopolies were outlawed by the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890, no politician could provoke action against Standard Oil since they didn’t want to bite the hand that feeds them bribe sandwiches. This then created the case where the monopolists had power in the state of politics. Rockefeller and Carnegie used their power and influence to practically buy William Mckinley into the presidency, knowing that he was soft on monopolists. But then the record scratched for them when Mckinley was assassinated by a steelworker. And then his vice president came to power. And a bald eagle cawed from the distant skies. Theodore Big Stick Get Hit Shit Bricks Roosevelt became president and broke up the big businesses. This along with a collection of other anti-trust laws is what kept the competitive market alive and the monopolies at bay to this very day.
Industries were different during the Gilded Age. Back in those days, there was the railroad network, the oil industry, and the steel mills. Now it’s a social network, online industry, and stealing your data. I will now take the time to characterize the Big Four and detail the important questions brought up about them. Or not.
Jeff Bezos came out with his breakout performance in front of Congress. The Lazy Eyed Lex Luthor has come under fire for allegedly having employees using data from independent sellers on Amazon in order to develop competing products originating from the company. This business practice will in turn undercut the third-party sellers.
Beyond that Congress also questioned about stolen goods having been sold on Amazon, to which Bezos with his beady eyes expressed “I guess so.” There have also been growing concerns in the past decade about the treatment of the workers at Amazon in terms of rightful benefits and overall conditions of the workplace.
Speaking up about their concerns have workers fearing backlash from the company. They’re afraid that protesting against the company’s ethics will have them sent home in a box. Provided with two-day shipping along with an Amazon Prime subscription.
Tim Cook (formerly typoed as Tim Apple) exclaimed that Apple, having inherited it from the team of Steves, promoted a competitive market. Which seems to be true given that Samsung, Huawei, and the soon to be mentioned Google are successful smartphone vendors. Apple just makes sure to brainwash its consumers into thinking Android users with green texts are communists. I call this new age McCarthyism the ‘Green Scare.’
The only actually scary part is that Apple may have been caught in the same debacle as Amazon in that they appear to have a shared attitude for crushing independent sellers. In the case of Apple, certain third-party sellers on the app store are believed to have been suppressed. An anecdote provided by Congress detailed that an independent developer created an app that allows parents to manage the amount of time their children spend on the technology. That app was then blocked from the app store and Apple’s Screen Time was made available shortly after, which provided the same service. Cook retorted that the independent app contained software that breached the privacy of the children that were practically being surveilled.
Apple certainly made itself out to seem like a lesser problem compared to the operation of the other companies. Nothing about the sweatshop workers being paid $1 per hour probably because of a payment of a thousand dollars per congressperson.
It’s good to see that Mark Zuckerberg was able to sit without needing a rather long extension cord. Zuck had his face so close to the camera you could almost see the serial number in his irises. I am almost certain he was wearing sandals with his suit.
Facebook garners suspicion of becoming a monopoly based on its behavior towards its competitors. Before purchasing Instagram, features began appearing on Facebook that were particularly similar to those provided on Instagram. This was almost like an act of war pressuring the surrender of another sovereign nation. Leaked emails with the head of Instagram revealed that if the company wasn't able to strike a deal with Facebook then Zuck would go into “destroy mode.” That is a direct quote from the email. And it is a command on the button panel found on Zuck’s back.
Facebook was on the receiving end of the most heat from Congress, given that it is the most political. The proliferation of false information, election interference, and hate speech was all brought up. Unreliable content detailing the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine in curing COVID-19 reached 20 million views before being taken down for possibly influencing damage to public health. There are millions of bots generated on the site that promote a plethora of conspiracy theories. Where do these bots come from and why is 5G causing coronavirus?
Information spread on Facebook is believed to have swayed votes during the 2016 presidential election and has the power to affect future elections as well. I believe that Zuck understands this special ability that Facebook has and sees having ties with a political power to ensure longevity for his company. President Drain “the Swamp” Johnson may even need Facebook to in return ensure his reelection.
Sundar Pichai provided very vague answers for every question thrown at him while steepling his fingers like Mr. Burns. Like his company, whenever a simple question was asked he gave millions of possible results. Pichai used that same video feed to later speak with the board room of Joker and the mob members from The Dark Knight.
Google was believed to have been stealing information from smaller businesses seen as threats. It steals content in attempts to crush everyone else. Yelp was having their reviews actively stolen away from their own website. Google has the power to take away search traffic from a website if they do not abide by their rules.
However, the biggest news story that came about from this congressional hearing is when Pichai was asked about whether or not that Google paid money to the Clinton campaign. Which shortly after being asked caused a clash among the members of the Subcommittee. Before that everyone seemed to be on good terms and showed signs of bipartisanship. And that behavior made its way back. Everyone wore a mask. Everyone was socially distancing a wage gap between the men and women. Only kidding. They all make enough pay in Big Tech donations.
It is important to keep the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt and anti-trust laws alive to this very day. It is important to protect the process of competition for the good of you, the consumer. You who are willing to give your personal data to not just one but a small group of data oligopolists who refuse to show a germ of their own humanity. But that's what makes the United States of Amazon so great.